I remember sitting in the old Church of Christ parsonage where the Petersons were living, listening to another new song by my friend, Andrew. He’d been working on a song project in which every song was leading up to Christmas. Each time he’d play a new one for me I’d gush about it, because they were all so good and deep and well crafted—but still fun and quirky and funny like him. And so far, this newest song was my favorite.
It was a song about Mary, but with raw humanity and an unadorned perspective that you don’t usually encounter with Christmas songs. “It was not a silent night / There was blood on the ground.”
He always acted surprised when I told him how much I loved these songs, and I couldn’t tell if he really didn’t know they were great or if he was just being coy. Surely he knows, I thought. These songs are capturing something ancient and brilliant and joyful and soul-filling. And the Matthew’s Begats song is hilarious! Who does that? It’s so brave and weird and fills a hole in the world that no one else knew was there—exactly the kind of song that I love and try to write myself.
I couldn’t believe I had made a friend in Nashville that was on the same quest. I was so excited about this guy and this friendship and so happy for him and the songs he was writing, and I couldn’t wait for other people to hear them.
And now, twenty-something years later, those songs have circled the world. These songs about “the power of death undone by an infant born of glory” have resounded in the hearts of hundreds of thousands through the voice of my friend, and I cry just by stopping to think about it. And that story is huge and growing, ballooning like a thunderhead to the praise and glory of Jesus Who Reigns With The Angels.
But there are also smaller stories. Because of those songs and our friendship, I’ve sung and played on the hallowed stage of the Ryman Auditorium many times with my wife and daughter—something like 25 or 26 times. I really don’t know because I’ve lost count. One year I whispered “Bluebird” to Amy as we walked out onto the Ryman stage because until that moment, I hadn’t decided what we were going to sing! My parents and extended family have seen us there multiple times.
I can't believe I even get to play in the same sandbox as all of these lovely, deeply gifted people, let alone call them friends. Randall Goodgame
Amy’s family too. For her parents, Milton and Linda, coming up from Alabama to the “Andrew Peterson Christmas Show” became a special tradition. They’d tell all their friends they were “going up to see Amy and Randy sing at the Ryman.” After Milton died suddenly in 2006, the brilliant joy and glory of the night, so intertwined with love and memories, became dangerous. Darkness is a better friend to sorrow, and Linda stopped coming.
Recently, my dear friend Ben Shive wrote about the deep kinship he feels with the other perennial players on the Christmas tour. The years of shared experiences, co-mingled with the joy and common purpose of the tour, have created something that feels like an extended family for them. And I understand in part.
I’ve never been on the Christmas tour. In the early years, if my own tour schedule brought me near, I’d hop on stage in the Carolinas or in Texas, but I’d always make sure my calendar was clear for the Nashville show. And it made exciting conversation all year long. What songs are you gonna play? Who’s the special guest? Alison Krauss! What!?!
Years ago, I took for granted that I would get to play, like you take for granted that your best friend will invite you to their birthday party. Like you take for granted that your parents love you and your legs are still going to work when you wake up. (Legs are awesome, by the way. If yours work, praise God.)
But I don’t take it for granted anymore. I treasure it like older generations treasure a family reunion.
Andrew, Gabe, Ben, Jill, Andy, Stuart, Ron, Jeff, Buddy, Sierra, Christie, Todd, Osenga, Harold, Winn, Ashley, and then Asher and Brandon and Scott—these names are so precious to me now. Now I can’t believe I even get to play in the same sandbox as all of these lovely, deeply gifted people, let alone call them friends. Thank you, Andrew Peterson. These songs point to the beauty and sovereignty of God and his wisdom and faithfulness and mercy in such an amazing way, and they are such a unique gift to the world—they’ve also been an amazing gift to me.
And lastly, you’ll be happy to know that this year, for the first time in a long time, Amy’s mom came out to the Ryman auditorium to hear the “Andrew Peterson Christmas Show” once again. She sat on the front row, smiling wide, singing along: “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Christ is born!”